Rest stops are not created equal across the country. I have driven across the country many times but the majority of those times were on routes north and south along the eastern or mid-eastern interstates.
The differences in rest stops only drew my attention more than usual this past year since on my last road trip I was using rest stops as a parking place for Hotel Nova.
It was from the beautiful Pacific Northwest to the Industrial area of the Great Lakes. I drove across the mid-section on Interstate 84 and then met up with the I-80 and finally the I-90 to my new back yard.
Stops in the moist green areas of western Oregon were shaded and pleasant. In western Oregon and long into Idaho the stops were dry, no shade and probably an inoperative water fountain.
My experience in Boise, Idaho was mixed. There was grass here, artificially maintained I am sure. Here I had the pleasure to see both the setting sun and the rising moon in opposite directions. It was beautiful.
I slept poorly as did more than a dozen other cheap-skate travelers that were sleeping in their cars. A family pulled into this stop at 2:30 a. m. and let the family kids play football in the grassy area.
Of course, the kids have the right to stretch their legs but there was my Nova and about twenty other cars with travelers who were well into dreamland by then. Have some compassion; I moved my car twice to the outer edges while praying for the parents of these hell-raisers to realize how rude it was to allow this behavior.
I did not sleep well that night but it had nothing to do with the configuration of my body in the driver’s seat, I was not alone in my angst. One after the other, I saw awakened people lift their heads, get out of their cars, and many simple drove off.
I should have done the same but I am scared when it comes to driving on dark highways in the pitch dark. It is the fear of hitting a moose or a bear or whatever other kind of huge wild animal is prowling at night.
Morning light came and I was off. My rest stop in Utah was crowded and scary. So many tracker-trailers were idling or parked on an entrance incline, that I was nervous for their safety. The view of the desert rocks were great to behold while I pulled out my can of tuna fish and single-serve apple sauce. The apple sauce tasted like pie filling since it was boiling in my back seat until then.
The rest stop closer to Salt Lake City was big, and well maintained. I think it was artificially green. The water fountains did not work and that made me angry. I looked like I might have dipped into civilization again but no water to fill my bottles.
Through Wyoming I was the happiest. It had nothing to do with the rest stops. Some had no water and I could get no shade. This made for non-restful breaks. I loved Wyoming the best because of the open spaces and the delightful natural formations and the towering windmills on the horizon. I cried all the way driving through Wyoming. I was in another dimension of love. This was freedom.
Nebraska was a pleasant surprise. In eastern Wyoming and into Nebraska, it was green again. I stopped at a big commercial truck stop and finally treated myself to a shower. The day before I had thought the $13 cost was not worth it. It was worth it by this time and it was the most satisfying shower I have ever taken.
It was like a hotel room shower for those who are cringing at the thought of a truck stop shower. It was worth the $13 and it even had a hair dryer. I treated myself to an open-faced roast beef sandwich and a slice of pie there too.
Before I went to pump gas, I bought a chocolate bar. I put it on my dash for the time I had to pump fuel. When I picked it up I had to drink the thick melted chocolate from the wrapper. I travel with no air-conditioning and no music either. Daydreaming is the way to go.
I was forced off the road in Iowa with wind so fierce I could not keep my Nova on the road. This was a long night at the rest stop. I had had to pull off early, about four o’clock. This was where the rest stops got markedly more modern and catered to the higher maintenance travelers on the east coast.
There was a coffee dispensing machine and even a cleaning attendant. This was not like the rest areas out west. It was a Godsend, though, since the storm had me there for over 12 hours. I ran into a man that was on my same travel route who had slept at the same rest stop as me the night before.
It was nice to make a sort-of kindred minimalist traveler on the trip. He left before me; I waited until it was light enough to see the road. I used my flashlight to get a lot of reading done between trips inside the building for the toilet and more coffee. Otherwise I had to stay in the car from the rain, wind, and lightning.
This was my last night in Hotel Nova since I had people to visit as I moved closer to “home.” The traffic in the eastern states is daunting and the tolls are non-existent driving through the west. Driving out west is better but carry water. Minimalist travelers do not pay for water. Go drive. Go today-go now!